Y – Yolonda, To Our Life (NaPoWriMo #28)

Yesterday was Yolonda’s birthday. I wrote this poem for her, to her, and about us. Lordy, we were so young the day we married; a long time ago on a planet far, far away.

 

Age 19

 

To Our Life
by Bill Reynolds

You’re at the core of my life, the blood of my love.
Together for years, we performed so many acts
With so many roles we’ve held as a pair, line upon line,
We’ve both been there, one with the other,
searching for truth.

Unknowing what another play might’ve been,
We know what this was; and now we see what it is
Like pearls on a string, between two people in love
Our years remain, foundations of that same love,
And discovery of truth.

We built this world, one moment at a time.
Moments we recall; and some too long forgotten,
Our time together, creations of a living world,
The past is our present, our present the future.
And pacing our life, acting on truth.

Burdens of life did task our endurance
As humanity’s frailty tested our love.
All while building great passion and strength,
Nothing in the future can bring change to our past.
Stumbling on stones, finding more truth.

Love is not work, not a great task
While true work of the universe, it just might be,
Not as a choice we make, nor a feeling we have,
Love is just that, love is simply love.
Love never dies, nor shall this truth.

Happy Birthday, My Love; blessings to you,
A toast to your life, how happy you’ve made me
By being my wife. I’m glad I found ya.
We all love you., my dearest Yolonda.
A love discovered is finding a truth.

Road Trip Ready

 

Live long, love well, seek truth and happiness. Keep looking both ways, and mind the dangers lurking in the gaps.

T – Tercet: In Real Time (NoPoWriMo #24)

The tercet is a poetic stanza of three lines with a rhyme. While there is no specific rhyme scheme necessary and some even venture into free verse, I prefer to not to dig in unplowed turf. However, I did play with this and came up with rhyming lines one and two in each stanza, and using mid and end line rhymes in line three: aab2, bbc2, etc.

***

In Real Time
By Bill Reynolds

Not to be seen, heard, or specifically smelt.
We know it’s there, cuz experiences felt,
No gods can stop it, no power to quit.

Some sew it wisely, while others just wait.
The outcome’s the same, we share the same fate.
Fight back as we may; that is only delay.

Wind we can feel, the rain we may taste.
But the passage of time, we have little to waste.
Let’s consider the past; make choices that last.

Perpetually running, it passes in silence;
Everything changes, nothing is timeless.
Reality speaks loudly, but time passes proudly.

***

Thinking of time, be looking both ways.
While minding the gaps, watch only today’s.

Faces in the Mirror

What would it be like today, if I could see all the faces that you have reflected? You only reflect me the way I look today, older and very different than when we first saw each other. I don’t recall that day, because it was almost 70 years in the past. Before that, you had reflected many other faces for as many reasons.

Since before I was born, you always had your place in our home, on the west wall of our dining room. There, you were centered on the wall, above the old sideboard buffet, which was also a permanent fixture. As anyone walked past you going to, or returning from, the kitchen; you reflected their profile. Before leaving home, we all stopped and faced you for your final review and blessing as we took one last look. Mom and Dad used you to check the look of their hats reflected in your glass.

Since your total viewing area is only one foot by a yard wide, you never revealed much about us below the neck and shoulders. Yet, you remained our primary, go-to mirror even after several full-length mirrors were installed. I recall the day my brother stood staring at you when he pontificated, “You know, Billy, you’re only as good as you look.” I never agreed with him. Did you? I suspect that how people look is important to you. It’s your purpose.

Every year, on Palm Sunday, someone would change out the palm frond strip hung prominently across the top of your frame, where it would remain for the year. That was sort of the family way of dressing you up for Easter Sunday. It was always the same.

The only time you, or any of those items around you, were moved, it was for painting walls or changes to the floor coverings. But you, the mirror, and below you, the side board, were always restored to your rightful, prominent places. Mom and Dad did not change furniture often, but they never booted you from your space.

How many photographs, cards, messages, and notes were stuffed between the edges of your glass and your frame? What did they say? Were they important?

You are in old pictures from my grandfather’s house (the one my mother grew up in), taken long before my birth, showing you along with two side sconces, both long gone. I never met any of my grandparents, but you did. I’m sure my Mom’s father looked at his reflection in your glass. Maybe her mother, too. I can envision him holding his young daughter up for you to see. Who else saw themselves, and the reflection of others, in your glass?

Beginning in the 1920s or 30s, every member of my family must have looked at you. When did you come into being? Every friend who ever visited our house saw their reflection, and probably that of others, when they looked at you.

You have survived the Great Depression, the FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy years, World War II (and possibly WWI), several rough moves, and whatever untold disasters that occurred during your 44 years in my parents’ home. For the past twenty-five years, you’ve been undamaged by my hauling you from one end of the country to the other.

Your ornate frame has a few nicks and scratches revealing hints that the wood beneath your gilded frame’s lamination is red. The corners of your frame are secured with two wooden dowels each, all attesting to the creativity and craftsmanship of an earlier time, when some master mirror maker worked magic.

While you’re a handsome and distinguished antique, it’s not you the mirror that provides the mystery and intrigue. It is the many thousands of faces that underwent self-examination as you watched, the hundreds of times a tie or hat was straightened with your approval, or when an Easter Bonnet was set to one side, and then given an approving nod.

Oh, mirror on my wall, holding the history of thousands of changing faces within your glass panes, do you remember their smiles and their tears. What do you remember? What secrets do you hold? Will you show me those reflections so that I may see whose lives you’ve shared? I recall with fondness and sometimes sadness, the pictures in my memory of the many times I stood nearby, and watched, as others used you to reflect a special moment in time. Show me their faces today, so that we might name the names.

When you look in a mirror, wonder.
Who else has looked this way? Who will?
Look! But, look both ways, and mind your gap.

There is a Time

I first wrote this blog several weeks ago. Then, I gave it up and decided not to post it. However, something happened to change my mind – so here it is.

right-to-die2When would you like to die?

I choose never. I also would like to remain mentally and physically healthy during that time. I want the never die answer to apply to all people I love, like, care about, and anyone who I don’t want to leave me. It’s settled – no more death, no more suffering before death in lonely misery and pain. No more loss, being left, or watching someone wither away with cancer. Problem solved in less than 80 words. Praise be.

This is an issue of rights. I’m one of many who think our right to die is as basic as any natural human right. We can’t choose when and how we die. No one can help anyone else decide that.

Any of us could be accidentally killed at any time. Otherwise, and more likely, the people we pay to keep us alive will find that, eventually, nothing they can do will prevent the inevitable.

right-to-die3

I assume that for most (not all) of my family, my death would be something of a big deal. Like birth, it’s a one-time thing. Unlike birth and life, death has no end. But it does have a process called dying, and that seems to be the larger concern we share regarding the topic. It is the getting from life to death that we worry about. I am going to tell you about two deaths.

When I first met Dixie about four years ago, she was a fairly spry and cantankerous 98-year-old lady. I attended Dixie’s 99th birthday party. I watched as she introduced each arriving guest to each of the 15 or so other persons in the room, correctly by name and relationship. Then, she would tell a little story about each new arrival. Dixie stood, and moved around the room, in short heels through all of this for two hours. I was amazed. Her 100th birthday party was a memorial service. Dixie died in her home of a heart attack or similar cardiac event about six months later. If we could all be Dixie, I would not be writing this.

I met Joe less than two years ago, when I moved into the same apartment building. Last April, I attended his 96th birthday party. While not quite up to Dixie’s condition, Joe seemed fine to me. He was able to get around well with a walker. He drove and took care of virtually all his personal issues. Joe was very independent. I’ve been told that he informed others (not me) that he was concerned, and if his health failed too much, he would commit suicide.

After returning from a trip to the emergency room a few weeks ago, sometime during the night, Joe stepped into his bath tub and used a pistol to end his life. He was alone at the time and left no note and no explanation. I was shocked. But as I learned more, I’ve come to understand his motivation.

right-to-die1I live in state where physician assisted suicide and death with dignity are legal. However, getting a prescription is not easy and a patient must be terminal within six months. There is more to this. I don’t believe that we have the right to force people like Joe into this position. But we do.

In most of America, it’s illegal for us to receive any assistance in bringing about this inevitable event. Suicide is illegal in some states.

Jose H. Gomez, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, CA, has written about the right to die: “There is no such thing.” Many religious people will not grant anyone the right to end their own life (believers or not). The circumstances don’t matter: age, pain, suffering, loss of all hope of recovery, or loss of any dignity. Only “natural” death is permissible. If that’s what people want for themselves, good for them. But for others who wish to die, evil and cruel laws are unacceptable.

I fully understand the difficulty of this issue. Click here to read a good article on the right to die with a fantastic video, both of which are much more balanced than my opinion. Another eye-opener is an excellent TED talk on dying that I have watched several times. Click here to view it.

right-to-die4I’m sure that we’re technically and legally smart enough to figure this out so that people like Joe, or others with painful terminal illness can be granted the relief that a god who cared would grant them. But that is only going to be possible as we become more secular and religion is separated from law.

For each of us, there is a time to be born and a time to live. Always look both ways because there is also a time to die.

Are You an Enigma?

enigma3

I’m comfortable with not understanding everything and everybody. It has little to do with what I want, but more to do with my level of acceptance. I can be curious, and sometimes I’d like to know more. But I’ll never know everything.

Here’s an example. About a year ago I was in a discussion group talking about the US Government, and the government of another country that many of us consider an enemy. One lady said, “All I want is to know the truth.”

I watched her to be sure she was serious. Then asked, “The truth about what?” Following her tongue-tied response, I asked why she thought she could learn the truth. I explained that we had all the information available, filtered by the providing media source. Her problem was, and ours is that we usually form opinions and make decisions without knowing the facts. She said, “Well, that’s interesting.”

enigma2

The first time that I recall anyone calling me an enigma was back in the mid-1980s. I was walking back to my office when one of my staff looked at the contents of my hands he said, “You’re an enigma.” I looked down at my hands, smiled at him, and asked why. “A Snickers candy bar and a Diet Pepsi. That makes no sense.” I hadn’t considered the conflict of the combo. I answered, “It does to me. I like them both. If I was interested in diet, it would be celery sticks and a glass of water.”

If an enigma is a person or thing that is “mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand,” may I add “and interesting” without changing the definition? If you are an enigma to me, that means I find you difficult to understand. So what? I may see you as interesting for that same reason. I should accept that is who you are.

If I ask you to explain what I see as a puzzling conflict in your behavior or opinions, and you do, are you still an enigma? Or is it my failure to understand the makes you an enigma?

The enigma phenomenon pronouncement is an outside view. The inside view usually makes perfect sense. Furthermore, if people change behavior or opinion, are they still enigmatic?

I am an enigma to many. Here’s why.

enigma5

I spent over 45 years working in the Department of Defense (military, contractor, and civil service). I graduated from the most conservative (by most measures) public university in the country. I’m an old white guy who lived in Texas most of my life, and most of my long term acquaintances are conservative, republican, and religious. Stereotype me based on that and you’ll get me wrong, as many do.

enigma4

Politically, I’m a left of center moderate democrat. Depending on the issue, I’m often liberal, but I often find myself defending traditional things. I am fairly disciplined, but a good and flexible listener. I am an atheist who spent too many years trying to be that church guy. My past, age, race, education, and former residence belie the real me.

Love and peace are the answers. We should do all we can to avoid wars. After that, I think the limited, partial measures war-like actions of the past were folly. War should be fought to win. Because war is so ugly, that goal is only reasonable after all peaceful measures have failed. Talking war is a murky swamp full of traps. But I think we need to apply logic to our policies so that we can stop being on the losing end.

I’m neutral regarding the term open minded. I prefer a willingness to hear some other points of view, to be accepting of what I can, but to hold to my beliefs until information changes my mind.

I’ve done a lot, seen a lot, and lived a lot; but I can still be perplexed about myself. So, if you’re confused, maybe you should be. My wheels turn slower than they used to, but they’ve not stopped.

enigma

To keep an open mind, look both ways.

DEATH

The inevitable & unavoidable conclusion to life.

The inevitable & unavoidable conclusion to life.

During late October many cultures begin preparing for the first days of November. They remember the dead, acknowledge the end of harvest, and prepare for the dark days of winter. It begins with Halloween, then All Souls’ or All Saints’ Day, The Day of the Dead, and Samhain. Many believe it’s the time of year when we’re closest to the other world and death itself. The Fairy Tree story that ends this blog tells a wee bit more.

death6

It’s our only certainty—we die. Beliefs about what follows the end of human life range from nothing to Paradise and 72 virgins or reincarnation. Let’s not forget the whole Dante’s Inferno thing. Our beliefs about an after life affect our choices while living.

While no one has told of their experience following permanent death (we have near death accounts), there are stories with bits of information. Little of it is dependable or useful. Theories abound, but the database of the deceased is void of demonstrable facts. Only the dead know, and they’re not talking.

Efforts to resist death seem logical, but are eventually fruitless. While many consider death a condition leading to afterlife, most people (not all) avoid dying as long as possible. An exception is when living prolongs a life of hopeless suffering. Others choose death through martyrdom. We disagree about our right to die (whole other blog) and we normally work hard to keep living.

death4In the United States, more than two-million people die each year. The CDC reports the top four causes as heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, and accidents. I say, smoking, smoking, smoking, and driving plus illicit drugs because they are the major producers or triggers of those four “causes.” The root cause of most preventable premature deaths in the USA is smoking (so quit).

It can be difficult to determine the difference between a still living or recently deceased person. Without more information, we can only define death as an absence of life. Our legal descriptions require a physician to certify the time and cause of death. While absence of all brain activity normally defines death, court cases fog the legal definition. When there are uncertainties, we gain information through autopsy.

death3

While we’re fascinated with death, many of us avoid serious discussion of it and find it morbidly unpleasant. The death of friends, loved ones, and people we hold in high esteem represent the ultimate, painful loss. Our own death signals loss and aloneness, which is sometimes comforted by religious beliefs.

death2

Yet, we sing of death, we write about death, and we (should) discuss it. We often honor death’s inevitability with both art and science.

Since first hearing it, I’ve liked Ralph Stanley’s (died, June 2016) rendition of the song, Oh, Death, which is a plea with the Grim Reaper for another year of life. It was made famous in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? Hear a short version by clicking here.

From a list of ten poems about death, I selected two by famous poets. All ten can be found here.

“Death” by Rainer Maria Rilke (died 1926)

Before us great Death stands
Our fate held close within his quiet hands.
When with proud joy we lift Life’s red wine
To drink deep of the mystic shining cup
And ecstasy through all our being leaps—
Death bows his head and weeps.

From Queen Mab, by Percy Bysshe Shelley (became famous after his death in 1822)

How wonderful is Death,
Death, and his brother Sleep!
One, pale as yonder waning moon
With lips of lurid blue;
The other, rosy as the morn
When throned on ocean’s wave
It blushes o’er the world;
Yet both so passing wonderful!

death1Life is the time made precious by our inevitable death. May we fully enjoy the many pleasures and loves discovered and experienced while living. And may we all “…lift Life’s red wine to drink deep of the mystic shining cup…” because death is next for each of us.

Life is uncertain, look both ways.

Free from Religion

atheism8

Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. ~ Soren Kierkegaard

Talking about this is difficult enough, but putting my spiritual story into words has been a challenge. It’s 70 years long. While details are normally important, I cut them out because there are too many. I’ll save the “rest of the story” details for a memoir.

I grew up Roman Catholic–I prefer Irish Catholic. In parochial elementary school (K thru 8th grade), I was taught by nuns (Sisters of Mercy, who had none). That was a lot of church and religion. Then, I attended public high school (9-12).

Around age 13 or 14, I would leave home for church on Sunday mornings. But, I would go play pinball for an hour and then walk back home. Maybe I believed in god as a teenager. Because of the way I lived then, I don’t think I did.

My friend Jack and my girlfriend at the time, both attended the Episcopal church down the street. I started going to the youth group there, but my participation there had nothing to do with religion.

Following high school graduation, I joined the Air Force at age 18; I met and married a girl in Texas at age 19; graduated from college and started having children by age 25. Two years later, I was back in the Air Force and flying B-52s.

While I sampled some other Christian denominations during the 70s, I also ventured back to the Catholic Church for a couple of years. We had our marriage made official (sometimes incorrectly called blessed) in the eyes of the Church.

We had three children in the 1970s: boy, boy, girl. While we played on the Pope’s team, the boys were baptized. The girl was born in 1978, but she was not baptized Catholic.  So we must have stopped going to the Catholic Church before mid-1978. By that time, my wife and I decided that Catholicism was not working for us as a family.  Perhaps the anti-Catholic sentiments in her family contributed to her part in that decision. My wife and I always wanted to have a church home for our family. So, we kept looking.

The 80s decade began with us living on the island of Guam for two years. We seldom went to church there. Then we moved to California where we attended a Methodist church. That went well for a long time, and our daughter was baptized. However, our try at Methodist fell apart after the Methodist leadership decided to write political letters. They had no right to speak for me. Eventually, other distractions overwhelmed us, and we stopped going.

We next moved to San Antonio, Texas, then to Oklahoma. From the mid-1980s through the mid-90s, we participated in no religion. While that time was among the most difficult of my life for purely secular reasons, spiritual help would’ve been welcome.

About 1997, we again tried religion. This time it was the First Christian, or Disciples of Christ, denomination. During that time, I was reading books about, and trying to learn about, eastern philosophy and religious thought (Buddhism, Taoism, etc.). That led to my reading of Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain. I was spiritually moved by that book, by him, and by other mystics. I considered myself a searcher in the spiritual sense. I was looking for something and trying to understand what I was going through.

In 2000, as we prepared to move back to San Antonio, I told my wife that I intended to go back to the Catholic Church again. Her response was, “Good. I think I’ll go with you.” We did, and this time she became a confirmed Roman Catholic, which means she joined the Church through the sacrament of Confirmation.

We did everything to be good, active, participating members of our large Parish: pray, pay, and obey, as one guy called it. If there was anything we could do, we did it. We went to every adult religious education class, and we participated in many other “ministries.” I ended up teaching those adult classes and I added several lessons to the curriculum, including a critical one called, The Problem of Evil.

I read all of the Bible and started adult Bible Study classes. I did all the lesson plans and taught every class for years. I also taught children’s religious education classes.

I applied to be ordained as a Deacon, but later withdrew my application for a variety of reasons. One was time, and becoming a Deacon required a multi-year program. For two years, I was a member of the Parish Council, then I served as its President for two more years. We were in the top five percent of financial donors to the Parish. My oldest son was married in the church. We did it all. My wife was also employed as the Parish Office Manager for more than 10 years. After she retired, I applied for and received a job promotion that required a move to Florida.

Before we moved, I began to realize that my twelve year immersion into the religion and church of my youth had crystalized within me what I was trying to avoid. I was deeper in doubt. Oddly, it was like I knew too much. I began to realize that I didn’t believe any of it. I felt unfit for any religion because no matter what I did over the years, I did not believe what I professed. I couldn’t. I don’t do hypocrisy well.

I was not ignorant. By 2012, short of most clergy and some long-time apologists, I knew as much about the Christian faith and many other religions, as any layman–more than most. For the next two years, I pondered my beliefs and all that I had put myself through. I am a… I’m… what?

I no longer considered myself a Catholic, practicing or otherwise. I was peeling away the nonsense and discovering my personal truth. I knew the answer, but I avoided it.

I watched a documentary about former ministers who are now atheists. Some were still ministers. I was in awe of their courage. I couldn’t imagine doing that. I still can’t. That’s when I knew I was going to come clean. But how? When? As what?

I probably have not believed in god since I was about 12, but I kept trying. I couldn’t bring myself to write or to say words contrary to belief. I didn’t want to tell anyone. For a long time, no one asked. About three years ago, I did volunteer to a coworker, “I don’t believe it—none of it.” He’s an apostate Mormon and told me that his father, a life-long Mormon, eventually said the same thing.

Question One1Retiring and moving to the Seattle area provided time for me to consider my beliefs in greater detail. I read more about atheism, and I started to write about it.

Then, a few months ago while meeting with my writer’s group, one lady asked me, “Do you consider yourself an atheist?” I didn’t answer the question right then. After more thinking, I knew that I had to say it. So, days after being asked, my answer was yes–I am an atheist.

I gave up on religion because it never worked. Perhaps it never worked because after I reached the age of reason, I never believed again. I wanted to believe, and I wanted it to work. Now, I know that was impossible. I accept that, and I’m pleased with the outcome.

give up religion

I have few regrets about any of my life-long spiritual journey. However, I do regret that so many people consider atheism a dark, bad, evil thing. It’s not. Admitting my atheism freed me from the last of my self-imposed, people-pleaser bondages. Now, I need to find a pinball machine for Sunday mornings. Free again, at last.

May your spiritual journey lead to discovery of your personal truth. Let no one place limits on your life, so that you may grow and learn. We need not fear the truth revealed to us, by us.